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Vaka Paikea to get whale art as tribute to legendary Maori ancestor and his journey

Thursday 9 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Culture, National


Vaka Paikea to get whale art as tribute to legendary Maori ancestor and his journey
Working on Vaka Paikea and the start of the whale art on the hull. From left: Artist Katu Teiti, Master navigator Peia Patai and master voyager Steve Daniels. 23020715

According to Māori legend, Paikea, a great fisherman from the island of Mauke who gets lost at sea, landed on Aotearoa New Zealand on the back of a whale many centuries ago.

And to pay tribute to this legendary Maori ancestor and his journey, artwork of a humpback whale will be engraved on Vaka Paikea which was gifted to the Cook Islands by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea.

Local artist Katu Teiti says he feels “so privileged” to have been commissioned to paint the vaka. This will be his largest piece of art.

Preparations for the artwork involved the graphic design of a whale projected onto the hull for the sketching. The design will be repeated on the other hull.

Vaka Paikea captain and master navigator Peia Patai was pleased to see the start of the painting and said the design of a whale was fitting.

Patai, who is from the island of Mauke, revealed that for some time he had been thinking of names for the vaka.

“I had been thinking about an appropriate name for our vaka, and name Paikea came about in a dream,” said Patai.

However, Patai felt a bit hesitant and uneasy and contacted the vaka culture advisor and one of his cousins, Tinokura Tairea, who knows the korero of Mauke. They okayed the name.

He had to also dig deeper and learn more about the story of Paikea. Patai said when Tairea finally gave his approval, he said the name “Paikea” needs to be revived in the Cook Islands.

“From that conversation, I finally felt at ease about the name. I was happy.”

Maintenance work is still being carried out on the vaka, “mainly cosmetic things but time consuming”.

The blessing and official unveiling of Vaka Paikea will be held on April 14 before she sets sail for Mauke where traditional voyaging programmes will be conducted with young people on the island.

“We want to focus on the young people in the Pa Enua, to pass on our knowledge to them … we are doing this for our young ones,” said Patai.

Tauranga Vananga (Ministry of Culture) is documenting the artwork on the vaka with filming by Paula Paniani. The ministry has also provided some shade from the beaming sun.

Patai would like to acknowledge Culture Secretary Anthony Turua, Paula Paniani and the Okeanos Foundation chairman Dieter Paulmann.

“We are very lucky we have his (Dieter’s) support, and he’s happy we are carrying on what he has advocated for,” said Patai.

Okeanos is a non-profit organisation that seeks to support innovative and transformative community led solutions to the challenges Pacific Islands are facing. Their mission is to advance sustainable sea transportation, indigenous learning, fossil fuel-free living, inter-island connectivity, cultural respect, economic sustainability, and climate change preparedness.